GUIPÚZCOA - San Sebastian
The moment you arrive in San Sebastián, La Concha beach invites you for a dip or a pleasant stroll along the shore, even in winter. The elegance of the bay, framed by the massif of Igueldo and the island of Santa Clara, is known the world over. The city has two other fine urban beaches: if you like walking you can start your stroll on Zurriola beach, frequented by surfing enthusiasts, then skirt round Monte Urgull along the Paseo Nuevo and then go right across the bay to finish on Ondarreta beach. There you are awaited by the Peine del Viento (Wind Comb), an impressive large-scale sculpture by Eduardo Chillida and Peña Gantxegi which speaks of the ferocity of the Bay of Biscay.
If the natural settings of San Sebastián are wonderful, the good taste of its inhabitants meant that its bridges, squares and buildings had to be even more so. You’ll feel as if you’re revisiting the Belle Époque when you pass in front of the Victoria Eugenia theatre, the Hotel Maria Cristina or the spa hotel of La Perla, frequented by the cream of the aristocracy in the early 20th century.
Every September San Sebastián becomes a setting for film. International stars fly in daily for the city’s International Film Festival. As the European Capital of Culture 2016, San Sebastián is rich in culture and the arts, with jazz and classical music festivals as well as a range of up to the minute museums such as that of San Telmo.
The city is also a world capital for food, particularly its pintxos, for which every bar in its Old Town is a treasure trove. Go into any of these tempting establishments and try a “gilda” or one of the other elaborate pintxos which are authentic displays of haute cuisine in miniature. And if a more relaxed gastronomic experience is what you are after, let yourself be tempted by the wide range of Michelin-starred restaurants.
ÁLAVA - Vitoria
You’ll feel it as soon as you arrive – it’s friendly and convenient, designed for living in: everything is close at hand, including the so-called Green Ring, a perimeter around the city formed by six large parks you can explore on foot or by bicycle. In one of them, Salburua, you can see several lakes which, thanks to their privileged location on a migration route, are visited by a wide variety of birds.
Vitoria-Gasteiz gets international certification as a destination for sustainable tourism, Biosphere Responsible Tourism.
Another of the treasures Vitoria-Gasteiz has to offer is what is known as the Mediaeval Almond, so-called because of its shape, one of the finest old quarters in the Basque Country.
The Cathedral, a Gothic literary star
The Gothic cathedral of Santa María will be first on your list. It occurred to somebody that long-term restoration work on the building could be taken advantage of to show visitors and history lovers just how it was constructed. A brilliant idea! Over a million visitors have already explored its naves, atrium and walls. Novelists like Ken Follett and Toti Martínez de Lezea have taken inspiration from the cathedral to tell the stories in their books. Old Gasteiz also boasts the status of a Historic Site. Its street names – Cuchillería, Herrería, Pintorería, Correría, etc. – recall the trades of the guilds (cutlers, smiths, painters and harness makers, respectively) to which they were home.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is just a short distance from Rioja Alavesa, so you can combine a visit to the city with the pleasure of discovering some of its famous wineries. The capital loves fine food and wine in all their dimensions. Both in the Old Town and in the centre there are “pintxo trails” where you can try the irresistible flavours of haute cuisine in miniature washed down with some of the best wines from Rioja Alavesa.
VIZCAYA - Bilbao
The icon of this transformation is the Guggenheim museum with its stunning architecture, the work of Frank Gehry, of which you have probably heard already. You have to come and see for yourself how design and architecture impregnate the whole city, starting with the Paseo de Abandoibarra, very close to the museum itself, an undeniably charming area where tourists and locals, joggers and families, mix and meet every day. From there you can see new buildings like the Isozaki towers and the Iberdrola tower, the highest in the Basque Country. Another design classic is the city metro, the work of Norman Foster, and La Alhóndiga, a former wine warehouse converted into an arts centre and meeting place by Philippe Starck.
La Ría and the bridges
During your visit to Bilbao you can take as your point of reference La Ría, the estuary, an artery along which ships used to arrive and which today remains a key part of city life. Following its course you’ll come to the Puente Bizkaia, a jewel of industrial architecture and a World heritage Site.
Discovering La Ría and its bridges is a journey through the city’s history. El Zubizuri (Basque for white bridge) and the Arrupe foot bridge are icons of the new Bilbao, while others like the San Antón bridge, which has been there for over 700 years and features on the city coat of arms, are important representatives of its past.
La Ría also takes you to the Casco Viejo, or Old Town, a lively area which is very close to the hearts of Bilbao’s inhabitants. Take a walk around its bustling “seven streets” and before you know it you’ll be trying pintxos and wine or “txikiteando”. As well as colourful, tempting pintxo bars, the Casco Viejo offers you countless shops to browse, old shops packed with charm and also the latest trends in fashion and accessories.